Predictably, it reached the following impasse with the first set. Impasse one from Susan:
So, CM, maybe you need to bow out of this conversation since you aren't willing to think outside your ideological box. People are trying to talk more abstractly and push beyond their own perspectives, but you don't seem to be interested in that.Impasse two from watsy:
I have no problem with Courage Man or Rod or anyone else having objective truths. But we live in a diverse culture. I want to know why CM and Rod think that they have the right to say that MNW and his spouse should not have the benefits that come with marriage.There is a certain sense in which these are both true.
Discourse among people with incompatible first principles is pretty jejune -- one is tempted to say pointless. And it IS pointless -- absolutely so -- when one party is so wrapped up in his first principles that he doesn't even see them as disputable (fish not noticing the water and all of that). It is also true that American society is not monolithically Christian, and its government is (and should be) secular.
But where both these commenters go off the rails is the conclusions they draw from these facts (or from the implicit ways they frame these facts), and the errors they make are fairly typical (the reason for my putting them here).
For example, if it be true that I am "unwilling to think outside my ideological box" in saying that "marriage means a man and a woman and so talk of 'gay marriage' is talk of 'four-sided triangles' or 'male pregnancy'," then it is equally true that gay "marriage" advocates are equally "unwilling to think outside their ideological box" by defining marriage as "the union of two persons." Again, you have to have *some* starting point and understanding of definitions. Further, to call me "unwilling to consider abstractions" is, to be polite, batshit crazy. I insist that the gay "marriage" debate is meaningless unless and until we consider what marriage *is.*
Further, why does it follow that if Susan and I¹ cannot have meaningful discourse because our starting assumptions are too incompatible (so far, so good), that (a) the fault is with me -- i.e., I need to be the one who "bows out" of the conversation; and/or (b) only *I* have an ideological box, outside of which I am unwilling to think.
By inviting me to "bow out" Susan (ditto note 1) is indicating a belief that she gets to define the terms in, and the terms of, meaningful discourse. If I speak Spanish and someone else speaks French, it'd be false and self-righteous for me to say that the Francophone needs to "bow out" of the conversation because he doesn't speak the right language. Inability to communicate because of incompatible languages/discourses is always and inevitably a two-way street. Liberals tend not to realize that because they generally think their "language" is that of all rational men. Not realizing that it isn't. Why is Susan's invitation/dismissal more rational than for me to say that she should "bow out" because she is unwilling to think outside her ideological box (which, phenomenologically-speaking, she clearly is not)? Or to overextend the metaphor, on what basis could one assume that Spanish (or French) is the natural language of discourse, the one that sets the terms of the conversation in the first place.
And the pro-gay-'marriage' folks clearly, obviously and repeatedly show their "unwillingness to think outside their ideological box" (or insistence on speaking French) by talking as if, and using constructions that presuppose, it were already uncontroversially and incontrovertibly established that marriage is the union of two persons, rather than the union of a man and a woman. For example, watsy talks about "MNW and his spouse," which is the intellectual equivalent of stealing all four bases. And I'll say it up front -- if marriage is the defined as the union of two persons, rather than a man and a woman, then there really is nothing to discuss. Everything turns on the definition of marriage. But Susan (ditto note 1) said that my definition puts me beyond the pale.
Further, there's a political analog here to the "bow out" exhortation which intellectually-aware Christians never fail to pick up on, and which watsy made quite explicit. As extrapolated from the private sphere of a combox discussion to the body politic, that analog provides an insight on liberals' general psychology -- namely that they assume, usually without even realizing it, that the "public square" belongs to them. That others, including Christians, must participate in it on their terms. But they truly do not realize how deep their unexamined assumptions go or that they reason from principles that they take to be self-evident, but which are not. This was how watsy put it:
I don't know that it's enough to say that "somebody" has to say. I think that the person who can provide the best non-theological reasons one way or the other should get the say. The reason that I think that it should be the best "nontheological" reason is because our civil laws aren't based on the Bible or what a subset of people consider to be sacred.In one sentence -- why are "non-theological reasons" privileged? I understand why a secularist would think they should be, but what understanding exists that a Christian (or Muslim or Jew or Zoroastrian) might find persuasive?
Yes, it is true that Bible is not the civil code, but one cannot extrapolate from that to the notion that public reason, i.e., what counts as an argument in the public sphere, therefore must be non-religious. Sure, I don't expect a non-Christian to be persuaded by a citation from Romans 1 (or even Catholic Natural Law philosophy). But why is the measure of "public reason" the ability to persuade a non-Christian? Why isn't it just as damning that a Christian will not be persuaded by an citation from Hume (or even an argument that presupposes, implicitly or explicitly, that God doesn't exist)? And if it doesn't matter that "secular" arguments can't persuade Christians, why shouldn't Christians take that as a sign that secularists consider them second-class citizens or second-class intellects?
Yes, it is true that not everybody holds the same things sacred. But everybody considers *some* things sacred. Maybe not in the "place in the monstrance for Adoration" sense of "sacred." But in the general sense of "sacred cow," meaning the that-which-cannot-be-questioned, secularists have just as many as Christians (secularism itself, equality, freedom, identity, one's personal ideology). And so someone's sense of the "sacred" will have to prevail, and there is no independent reason to privilege these secular "gods" over the Christian one. They are every bit as pre-rational and universe-defining.
The error is is assuming that one can go from the legal separation of church and state (an institutional arrangement that Christianity developed a millennium before Jefferson's ancestors were this side of the Atlantic) to the social separation of religion and society. The latter, to put it bluntly, is impossible, absent the formal disenfranchisement of Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. A religious believer has to believe that his religion is true, just as a secularist must believe that secularism ("freedom is good"; "the measure of public reason is to provide secular grounds for something") is really true. So to say that the religious person *has* to bracket his religion but a secular person need not bracket secularism is unvarnished arrogance, an imprisonment inside one's one beliefs so deep it cannot even see itself as imprisoned.
In the earlier quote above, watsy says she has no problem with "Courage Man or Rod ... having objective truths," which completely misses the point about "objective truth." By saying it's something somebody is "having," the speaker always already personalizes² or privatizes the matter, which is not what "objective truth" is. Watsy is presupposing that truth is something internal that one constructs for oneself rather than something external that is discerned -- like saying 2+2=4 (an objective truth, I think we can agree) is a matter of opinion rather than a truth binding upon you, whether you want it to be true or not.
Put that way, it's obvious that there's not much "there" there except "if everyone agreed with me, we'd all agree." Which is somewhat less than persuasive.
¹ It should go without saying that I use these names simply to designate ideal-types and for convenience's sake, not for the purpose of personalizing matters.
² "Personalizes" in the sense of "turns into a matter of personal opinion"; not "personalizes" in the sense of "making a disagreement into a personal attack" -- "you're a stupid bastard" and all that. As I used the word at the end of note 1